Building a Parenting Community

As a parent, you help shape the dialogue on children’s education, and in doing so, together we create a community.

We are dealing with two separate challenges in trying to bridge the gap with our children: the one-to-one, parent-to-child interaction in our own homes; and the million-to-one, youth culture-to-child interaction that is the teen community.

One-to-one: Research shows that our children act according to our perceptions of them, and they want to conform to those perceptions so that they don’t disappoint us. Because our children are looking to us for cues on how to act, we must make our rules clear and our approval (or disapproval) felt.

Million-to-one: Standing up as a parent to an entire teen community is a trickier task.  Parents often express anxiety, bewilderment, exasperation, or ignorance when faced with the latest teenage fads.  A good deal of our distress about what we see on the social media that our teens use is our realization that this generation is very open about all kinds of behavior, including substance-abusing behavior. What is each parent’s responsibility when it comes to addressing the larger teen community?

Does your child understand what values your family supports and does not support when it comes to teen culture?   For example, the teen community places a lot of importance on “staying in touch,” but privacy is undervalued. Talk to your child about the good and the bad values that you see in the larger teen community. Be sure to support some pop-culture values, or you will risk destroying your credibility.

Do you connect with other families who share your views and help monitor your children?  Without a doubt, my best parenting information comes from the parents of my children’s friends. So many parents express relief when they find other like-minded parents. We parents are actually part of our own nationwide parent culture, but our community does not have the same reputation and glamour as the teen community. While we might not be updating each other on our Facebook pages, we must remember how important it is to act like a group with a purpose.

Does it “take a village” to raise a child? If it does, how are we doing in our respective villages? Last June, a mom I know told me that she had a tough time finding parents to chaperone the senior prom.  Few parents were willing to be in the uncomfortable position of having to uphold the school rules.  Parents told her, “my child would be humiliated if I were present.”

Why are we so careful about our children’s feelings and so lacking in our caring for our larger community? We parents often try to behave in a way that shows our understanding to our child—but when we do so we also have to check the message we are sending to our community at large.

Are we sending the message “we are not watching?” Or are we brave enough to be representatives of the adult community and be accountable for expressing interest and concern about our children and the teen community?

By Alison Birnbaum

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